Fiction

2016

‘Under She Who Devours Suns’ in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Melishem and Sikata should both have been champions for Tessellated Talyut. On the tension between love, duty, sacrifice, and the self-destructive obsession with becoming the best. 5,900 words.

‘The Finch’s Wedding and the Hive That Sings’ in Clockwork Phoenix 5 (ed. Mike Allen, Mythic Delirium). In the Cotillion, the Song is all. A commander bargains with an oracle for favorable omens, but her bid for war is complicated by that most difficult of all battles: marriage negotiation between the powerful. Poly marriage, politics, a theocracy of birds and music. Think WH40K, but queer and intersectional. 7,200 words.

‘Comet’s Call’ in Mythic Delirium. Hu Ziyi is both arms dealer and weapon, veteran of many wars, summoned to a dying city built on a legacy of genocide to lift a curse. 4,100 words.

‘That Which Stands Tends Toward Free Fall’ in Clarkesworld Magazine. In a not-too-far future, the geopolitical map has changed irrevocably and war has become the default. A retired soldier has spent years in Ayutthaya, avoiding her former duties, until they catch up in the shape of her commander and her AI child. Ghost in the Shell meet post-colonialism in Thailand meet lesbian soldiers. 5,800 words.

‘In Them the Stars Open Like Doors’ in Flesh: A Southeast Asian Urban Anthology (ed. Cassandra Khaw and Angeline Woon, Buku Fixi). In suburban Thailand, a woman gives birth, over and over, to galaxies. Soon, they will kill her. Magic realism. 2,600 words.

‘Dream Command’ on Harlot Media. Soldier women in a dangerous game. Military SF thriller in the near future, with a kinky queer bent (graphic sex). 6,700 words.

‘The Beast at the End of Time’ in Apex Magazine. As the world marches toward the guillotine of its finale, a beast wakes and a woman heavy with her mothers’ legacy seeks to repair humanity’s last refuge. A bit Jekyll-Hyde, a bit Beauty and the Beast circa nanomachine apocalypse, all lesbian. 4,000 words.

2015

‘The Occidental Bride’ in Clarkesworld Magazine. Heilui, a Hong Kong anthropologist, buys an ex-mafia Finnish bride. Her new wife Kerttu must learn to adapt to civilian life in an unfamiliar land, an unfamiliar culture… and perhaps together the two of them will catch the terrorist behind the war that sank Europe. 6,700 words.

‘The Insurrectionist and the Empress Who Reigns Over Time’ in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Yin Sanhi is the woman who foments and leads revolutions, knowing always that she’s one step from her fall – and Empress Narasorn proves her equal. Epic fantasy in 6,000 words.

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‘Under She Who Devours Suns’ is up at Beneath Ceaseless Skies

By the time Melishem returns to her birth-city Tessellated Talyut, there is little of her that anyone can recognize. Her gaze burns unhuman amber, her bare scalp glistens with meteorite blood, her articulated arms murmur with live moths. Antennae peek through the gaps in her joints, more delicate and superb than any lace.

Her bare feet track salt across the earth, leaving shriveled worms and withered grass in her wake. She has been walking a long time, unresting and unseeing of any sight save her objective.

She arrives before the Gate of Glaives at sunrise, the sky green and trembling behind her.

“I’ve come back,” she rasps in a voice of burnt honey and rust, more bitter than sweet, “to fight Sikata Lantern-of-God.”

There’s a common wuxia premise: the wandering martial artist who seeks to become the best of the best. Their method of proving themselves is brute – they go around challenging warriors (sometimes entire schools), armies, and so on. They take extreme measures to improve themselves, years of brutal training; they may come across and aid those in distress, though this is somewhat incidental to their quest of improving their skills. It’s a romanticized ideal, but it’s also a self-destructive obsession – these wondering warriors have virtually no other concerns or desires but to prove themselves the ultimate swordsman or martial artist.

In ‘Under She Who Devours Suns’, Melishem should have been one of her birth city’s champions, but the laws dictate there can be only one – and her friend Sikata took the title by besting her. This is what happens after someone like that has remade herself in order to achieve the title of the best. It’s a bit Claymore in that the system around them forces fighters to obsess over who’s the best and who ranks above whom, and it’s also a bit Claymore in that the women in the story have a complex, deadly relationship with each other.

(I don’t call the god in the story a goddess, even though she is gendered female. I’ve grown quite resistant to gendered common nouns, but more on that when my next fantasy story goes up.)

A reader has been very kind and thorough about this story, providing such close reading that would have been equal to any novel review easily. It’s a tremendous and lovely gift to be read, let alone so exactly and thoughtfully.

Work such as Under She Who Devours Suns demonstrate that we are indeed living in a SFF renaissance, even if there are those who resist and desire to pull us back into a “golden age” that was never that golden and didn’t really exist. While there has always been excellent SFF the genre sections at bookstores and libraries were usually dominated by a sea of mediocre and derivative shit that, for some reason, is still defended by a group of MRA-type nerds who are content with mediocrity. Now things are beginning to change; more interesting work is being published and becoming popular. Despite the fact that some people are pushing back with an eye towards backwards literature is just a sign that the best days of “genre” fiction are upon us.

It Turns Out Everyone Was Right About Aldnoah.Zero

I don’t think this show knows what it is doing. Well – it does know what it’s doing in that it got Urobuchi to write the first 3 episodes to lure people in, but after that it’s a total shitshow.

On one hand, it’s incredibly perfunctory – it has all the requisite components of a typical mecha title (including child soldiers – sorry, teenage pilots) that it brings in slightly different directions than expected, while at the same time it still falls back on the traps of unfortunate fanservice and cramming in a ton of empty spectacle. With Psycho-Pass you know it’s saying something, the writing and pacing and the rest are imbued with the conviction of intentionality; with this it’s more going through motions, phoning it in, so much so that Urobuchi’s signature (killing a ton of major characters off) is either softened or absent. For a change, this is actually a bad thing.

Count Cruteo roleplaying American foreign policy

What kept me watching was partly that it’s almost word-for-word an aggressively subdued Code Geass, to the point that the evil emperors look downright related (and there are the references; Inaho is nicknamed ‘Orange’ and gets a cybernetic eye; who else is nicknamed Orange-kun and gets a cybernetic eye…). There’s a Lelouch, an Euphemia, a Suzaku, even sort of a Kallen. It’s slightly bemusing to watch, though unsurprising seeing that Urobuchi’s had experience doing ‘What if Show X, But My Way’ (Psycho-Pass being a Ghost in the Shell with Urobuchi philosophy, and no fanservice).

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Kiran Oliver’s DAYBREAK RISING cover reveal

My friend Kiran Oliver’s debut novel, Daybreak Rising, is coming out September 21, 2016 from Torquere Press. It’s a lesbian fantasy and I’m pleased to share the cover reveal. :)

daybreakrising1400

Here’s a bit about DAYBREAK RISING:

22-year-old Celosia Brennan spent sixteen years being raised as the heroine her nation needed. A dual-touched Elementalist with both the power to conjure fire and see glimpses of her future, Celosia was the best hope at overthrowing the oppressive Council in a mission called Daybreak, an attempt to secure justice for the massacre of her people and so many others. There’s just one problem: she couldn’t. Celosia broke down after realizing the enormity of her task, and is struggling to make things right while the blood of her fellows stains her hands.

Now branded a failure, Celosia desperately volunteers for the next mission: taking down the corrupt Council with a team of her fellow elementally-gifted mages. Leading the Ember Operative gives Celosia her last hope at redemption. They seek to overthrow the Council once and for all, this time bringing the fight to Valeria, the largest city under the Council’s iron grip. But Celosia’s new teammates don’t trust her—all except for a powerful ice Elementalist named Ianthe who believes in second chances.

With Council spies, uncontrolled magic, and the distraction of unexpected love, Celosia will have to win the trust of her teammates and push her abilities to the breaking point to complete the Ember Operative. Except if she falters this time, there won’t be any Elementalists left to stop the Council from taking over not only her country, but their entire world.

You can add Daybreak Rising to your GoodReads TBR shelf today, and pre-orders should be live from Torquere soon.

About the author

Kiran Oliver is a Southern New Hampshire University graduate having majored in Communication with a PR focus. He currently attends Free Code Camp in the hope of earning a certificate in Full Stack Web Development while working as a freelance technology journalist. When he’s not writing for work, he’s creating novels such as DAYBREAK RISING for fun.

When not daydreaming about lesbian pirates, queer lady paladins, or dragons, Kiran can be found at the gym or playing MMOs. He resides in New Zealand with his wife Elizabeth, their cat, Ember, and soon to be a puppy named Zephyr.

Find Kiran on social media:

Twitter – @coliver_writes
GoodReads – https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14011102.C_K_Oliver
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/authorCKOliver

Iron Man Mini-Reviews

Upfront: I confess that I only sought out the Iron Man films because… well, the dude look like he came out of a Metal Hero franchise, right?

There’s even a thematic common ground: weapon technology is great as long as it’s being applied by the righteous person, i.e. the hero (who may be an android fighting to save the world, or a Japanese police force; it depends). Usually the Japanese heroes are a bit more humble than Tony Stark; they tend not to be womanizing ultra-wealthy assholes who make their own gadgets. Rather they tend to be ‘forced’ into fighting because someone killed their dad and/or experimented on them to turn them into insectoid cyborgs and/or they were a monster all along and self-inflicted amnesia into thinking they were the person they murdered, that sort of thing. Because Metal Hero shows (and tokusatsu in general) are aimed at young children, it tends to be fairly bloodless, and fairly sexist (in the sense that women, if they show up, tend not to do very much but provide a sort of sexless romantic interest).

Er, and the average tokusatsu title isn’t as creepily imperialist.

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Movie Mini-Reviews

I’ve been slumming it among Hollywood titles, searching (and mostly failing) to find things I can enjoy as mindless brain trash. I’m not looking for politically challenging material here or even something like intelligence. I’m not even looking for something the level of quarter-assed Urobuchi. I’m just looking for things that can entertain.

Unfortunately, most of what I found was painful or embarrassing or boring, and I don’t mean because it’s racist or whatever. It is just Not Very Good. Up on the chopping block: this thing below, the rebooted X-Men movies, and The Avengers (2012). All titles are crammed end-to-end with mandatory heterosexuality.

Pacific Rim (2013). This is a rewatch and, as it turns out, it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny very well. It’s still pretty fun! I just keep wondering why the jaegers are so badly designed. I realize it’s for the ohhhh awesome factor, but in-universe it doesn’t make a lot of sense. The jaegers move unbelievably badly on land and even worse in water, where the majority of their engagements would logically take place. They’re too tall, their center of gravity is terrible, they maneuver like drunk porcupines. There isn’t even a reason for them to be bipedal. I’m biased after having watched Akito the Exiled.

There’s a lot to be said for skittering rapidly on all fours. (And as the Code Geass OVA proves, you can choreograph perfectly fun mecha battles with this design.) It’s like yeah, sure, del Toro is into big Japanese monster movies* but part of the fun in those is the combat is relatively graceful, you know? Speaking of that, if he admires his Japanese sources so much, couldn’t he squeeze in a few Japanese extras? How come all the Chinese characters – and extras – pretty much never talk? Why do the white men do all the talking and the, well, doing? And surviving – I mean, even the Russian lady doesn’t get much screen time, and she’s super white. The main white dude’s brother probably has more speaking parts than all the characters of color combined (other than Mako), and he dies a few minutes into the film.

* The Attack on Titan live action is perfectly serviceable for that, come to think, with the bonus that the titan shifters don’t move like drunken porcupines trying to brawl. Another bonus: it’s a hell of a lot less white than Pacific Rim.

Mori Mako as a ‘feminist icon’ is a total failure, by the way. The white dude constantly takes the lead (does he ever shut up? Up to the point he thinks he’s about to nobly sacrifice himself, he’s still gabbing away at maximum speed!). Her characterization begins and ends with ‘takes cue from a bunch of men’. Very feminism triumph, this. She also seems faintly embarrassed by the script; I think the only time she sounds into her role is when she yells ‘For my family!’ in Japanese. The rest of the time she’s grimacing or smiling blankly.

But hey, PR has more POC with primary speaking roles than pretty much every other title named in this post – high bars!

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Heritage and ‘genre literacy’

A while back there was an old man yelling at clouds to the tune of ‘If you haven’t read this arbitrary set of dead white men who was publishing fifty to two hundred years ago then your writing is worth nothing because you haven’t read your forebears and you’ll just be retreading them, and that makes you a bad writer‘.

I tweeted, snarkily, ‘Nah, anything published before 2000 was stylistically embarrassing and out of touch.’ A different white old man, offended, tweeted that I was destroying heritage. (Heritage of… what? Heritage relevant and important to… whom? Why assume it’s relevant or important to me? Is this seriously someone’s cultural identity? Anyway, I just set all the books published before 2000 on fire with the power of my mind. You’re welcome! Except the ones I like, those can stay.)

The point really isn’t these two specific old white men, or the specific younger white people – on a different occasion – claiming that you should read SFF you don’t care for so you can stay… ‘genre-literate’. Not my word! You are also not allowed to think that which you don’t care for is terrible, by the way. It won awards. It sold lots of copies. Thus Dan Brown’s literary value has been proven unassailable, and also that of EL James.

If you tell any of these people that they have to  read The Ramayana in Sanskrit, or every set of Man Booker and SEA Write winners/nominees from the last ten years, or a good chunk of the western literary canon – if you tell them that, without reading these, you would dismiss them as bad and illiterate writers, they would flip out and never stop.

Let’s quote Vajra (bolding mine).

A big part of postcolonial outsider syndrome is, I think, the shear between mediated and real-world relationships. When so much of US/UK SF culture is based around IRL activity, and when those of us on the outside of it can only interact with the online parts, these very different senses of “community” grind painfully against each other. There’s a wobble, an instability in this relationship that is only exacerbated every time that this grinding churns out the kind of wilful solipsisms that insist that there is no outside; or that the outside is all the same; or that the outside doesn’t matter except insofar as it will conform to and mirror the inside; or that the outsider must acculturate, must assimilate. And by that I don’t mean that being asked to feel like an outsider makes me doubt myself as a writer: rather, it makes me doubt the credibility of the systems and institutions that operate to evoke and enforce that feeling. It’s a reminder of the illegitimacy of the urge to assimilate.

So I didn’t go to Clarion, but I also don’t want to go to Clarion, or to conventions, or to participate in either lit culture or nerd culture. It’s entirely possible that I might never actually meet any of the people in US/UK SF that I know online, and I’m okay with that. Partly for the same reasons that I don’t generally go to similar things in Colombo either (i.e., mostly that I don’t like going to things), but also because I’ve been very lucky. I’m a second-generation writer, born to the trade—I was editing copy in two languages for my father’s novels before I reached my teens, and I learned how to set type in a composing stick for old-school letterpress printing before I learned to type on a typewriter. A fluke, the whole thing, just a total Paralichthys dentatus. Which is why I don’t mean any of this to come across as complaining about being on the outside of things. The opposite is true: I’m painfully aware of just how lucky I am. But not everybody in my position is going to be lucky enough to make this tradeoff. Most other new writers from South Asia aren’t going to have this kind of background or the advantage of the confidence it brings. That’s why it’s important to look closely at the systems in place and point out as many ways to deal with them as we can.

One of those ways, obviously, is what J is talking about. Break on through to the other side. Join in. Do the thing. Another way is mine: be unreasonably lucky and stay mostly in your head.

What I’d actually like to see more of in the world, though, what I think would be best, is a third way, which is that those of us on its outside should abandon the Dyson sphere: not just the metaphor, I mean, but the politics and the affect that it evokes. Perhaps it’s possible to disengage a little more from the imperial hub and its ultimately parochial preoccupations. The purpose of imperial hubs in culture is also distraction. Instead, perhaps we could help create a new mangrove SF, a mongrel SF with many roots, a rhizome to live in. Look at Omenana as an example, or Truancy, or Juggernaut’s SF department under Indra Das. There is an English-language SF, in short fiction no less, fully contemporary, aimed at an international readership, whose roots are firmly in what used be the outside. This is important. This is good, for everyone.

Not to belabor the obvious, but: when you claim ‘genre literacy’ (getting real close to ‘fake geek girl’, isn’t it) and you really only mean – and think – of yourself, and when ‘you’ happens to be a white American or a white Brit, and what you think of as essential to your heritage and ‘literacy’ also happens to be really white, really American or British… and you seem unable to grasp that there are other traditions, other histories, and other lines of media consumption? Uh-huh. Imagine: some of us didn’t grow up on whatever it is that forms the bulk of your childhood nostalgia. We are not obliged to respect your childhood nostalgia. Some of us try to decolonize our heads. That is a thing. Stop being presumptuous.

So here is something absolutist:

Good writers forge their personal canon aggressively. They draw on a variety of media and a range of multinational influences.

Good writers know what is good, and what is bad, and they are honest to themselves and to their writing.

Good writers don’t read or write by committee.

Writing about MFAs in creative writing, a round-up

Reading pieces on MFAs in creative writing is my new hobby. Whether for or against, the pieces are mostly absurd, fatally earnest, frequently myopic. There’s an endless well of it! This is the most beautiful, most harmless misery tourism, and I derive a lot of anthropological enjoyment from it – look at these strange … rituals! Look at their savage infighting and their idolatry of, I don’t know, naked white corpses at least a couple centuries old? Here are some of my favorites. Most of these are pretty old, but entertainment is evergreen.

ON BLOWING MY LOAD: THOUGHTS FROM INSIDE THE MFA PONZI SCHEME belongs absolutely to the category of fatally earnest, bordering on cultish, and very wishy-washy in the end. Read the comments; it’s funny.

In Get a Real Degree, Elif Batuman drops this amazing chunk of full-on, shame-free, undisguised xenophobia and racism and whatever this is.

I should state up front that I am not a fan of programme fiction. Basically, I feel about it as towards new fiction from a developing nation with no literary tradition: I recognise that it has anthropological interest, and is compelling to those whose experience it describes, but I probably wouldn’t read it for fun. Moreover, if I wanted to read literature from the developing world, I would go ahead and read literature from the developing world. At least that way I’d learn something about some less privileged culture – about a less privileged culture that some people were actually born into, as opposed to one that they opted into by enrolling in an MFA programme.

To which the author of the book she reviewed responded:

I’m impressed with Batuman’s willingness to speak so clearly as a cultural conservative, reanimating a whole herd of dead horses from the 1980s Culture Wars, when the right began a long, twilight struggle against the “tenured radicals” of the university. To reduce whole swaths of American literature to an expression of “sociopolitical grievance”; to condescend so witheringly, as Batuman does in her review, to the literature of “developing nations” — these sorts of rhetorical moves are strangely anachronistic, not to mention ill-informed, and would embarrass even the less than politically correct among us a little bit, were we called upon to justify them. It’s not that we believe that the airing of socio-political grievances is, in itself, likely to produce a good novel. It’s that, when you actually take the time to read a work like Toni Morrison’s Beloved, you find something a lot more complicated and compelling than Batuman’s snarky slurs would imply. One can be all for the deflation of liberal pieties without being a gleeful ignoramus about it, as though literary journalism needs its own Ann Coulter.

Things I Can Say About MFA Writing Programs Now That I No Longer Teach in One was the big one of 2015, it looks like. It includes gems that could have come out of Reddit, like:

Without exception, my best students were the ones who read the hardest books I could assign and asked for more. One student, having finished his assigned books early, asked me to assign him three big novels for the period between semesters.Infinite Jest, 2666, and Gravity’s Rainbow, I told him, almost as a joke. He read all three and submitted an extra-credit essay, too. That guy was the Real Deal.

That isn’t the part that offended people though; I think it was this – ‘The vast majority of my students were hardworking, thoughtful people devoted to improving their craft despite having nothing interesting to express and no interesting way to express it.’ One of his former students responds: I Was the MFA Student Who Made Ryan Boudinot Cry. It wasn’t Boudinot’s joke about child abuse that made him mad though, that part was fine and the more tasteless a joke the better; it was Boudinot disparaging the MFA industry, which is ‘the coolest tribe I’ve ever belonged to. And Ryan [Boudinot] was a part of that tribe. Now he has alienated himself from it’. You begin to see, I hope, what I mean as to ‘fatally earnest’.

(Another response piece has a creative writing instructor who says – I paraphrase – ‘I don’t assume I know what talent looks like. My students are better off for it.’ Okay, well, that’s certainly an approach!)

Back to more fatally earnest, You Are a Young Writer is a bit like – well, I would have said it was a parody, but I don’t think it is because I’ve seen people write about this sort of thing in exactly this tone, nearly in the same words – as I said, these things are evergreen.

You apply to a number of MFAs.

You are rejected by a number of MFAs, and waitlisted by one, and offered partial aid by another, and by another you are offered a full tuition fellowship in exchange for teaching and hot damn does this offer has you feeling on top of things you didn’t know had tops to feel on top of. You move to the state the school is in. Classes start: you read recklessly and you write ravenously, you write in forms and in modes that are new to you, and you’re astonished, and you for the first time teach, you’re a student with students, and you make friends with your fellow writers, friends from the East Coast and the West Coast and the Southwest and the South and the Midwest, you’re from the Midwest, with your Midwestern friends you disagree on what constitutes the Midwest, and with everyone else you altogether disagree on what constitutes writing and poetry and story and essay and art, and constitution, and you attend and give readings, and you work for a literary magazine, and on funding you travel to conferences, and you play pool and darts and poker and you drink beers and boozes and smoke cigarettes and cigars and you do some drugs maybe and you love, you love hard, you love the friends you share so much with, and yes, you make some rather wretched mistakes, some shameful blunders, and maybe there’s some rivalry and jealousy but you stay away from the circles of spite, the circles that spin on the talk that sinks community, and instead you write, and in your last year you write a book.

You are a young writer about to graduate with a graduate degree.

[…]

And maybe at PhD you try to get ahold of What’s Next, but What’s Next is busy, and a new professor, friend, or mentor says, I’ll put you two in touch, and it happens, you get a coffee in a crowded coffee shop with What’s Next, but What’s Next won’t look at you, What’s Next just stares over your shoulder, and you yell, Do I get my PhD and get a position somewhere or do I get my PhD and never get a position anywhere and get some other job somewhere or does a position open at one of the schools I adjuncted at and I get it and then it ends and it’s back to what I just said or do I get a book published and if I get a book published do I need my PhD!

No one in the coffee shop reacts to your yelling. Not even you.

You feel done, but you know you aren’t.

What’s Next? says What’s Next, not looking at you.

You drink your coffee. You don’t know.

You say, You don’t know.

What’s Next says, You are a young writer. Write.